Recently, Governor Steve Sisolak announced Nevada is joining some other states to promote electric big-rig trucks, large pickups, vans, delivery trucks and school and transit buses. This is in addition to prior commitments to electric autos and solar- and wind-powered electric energy.
This initiative is based on claims electric vehicles (EVs) and renewable electric power will reduce and then end our dependence on fossil fuels (oil, natural gas and coal). This, in turn, would reduce air pollution, especially from carbon dioxide, that contributes to global warming. In short, it will be good for the environment, human health and wellbeing, and thus in the broad public interest. Proponents claim it will significantly reduce energy costs for consumers and businesses – and it will do so soon.
Before getting behind the wheel, let’s kick the tires on this shiny deal, starting with the alleged low cost. Our visionary neighbor California began its fossil-fuel purge in the 1990s and now plans to generate 50 percent of its electricity via renewables by 2030 and much more by 2045. Besides requiring construction of extensive new solar and wind generators, it also requires large investments in new transmission capacity. Because night still falls and some days are cloudy, smoky or calm, fossil-fueled plants must be kept available and run often to replace the renewable capacity that produces no energy under those conditions.
So, while electric prices have been moderate in Nevada, those in California have sky-rocketed, reducing job and economic growth. Renewables also contribute to power outages. All this is part of the cause for good businesses exiting California for places like Nevada, Texas and Florida.
Added to this, folks are now seeing through claims that the operating costs of EVs are less than those for gasoline rides. Considering the thousands of extra dollars that must be spent on EVs over the life of vehicles, they are more-costly, especially as renewables drive up power costs.
Consumers and businesses need charging stations and usually batteries to charge their EVs, and utilities need expensive massive batteries, another expense. But wait, there’s more! EV production requires copper, lithium, nickel, cobalt, graphite and rare-earth elements. Wind and solar generators also require some of these. So, while some of the ores are mined in various countries, most of the dirty job of processing them into useful materials occurs in China, which is increasingly aggressive and hostile toward the U.S. China also accounts for 80 percent of the rare-earth elements. And Russia has a significant role in some of the inputs.
At least one major EV and solar element, lithium, is found in various places in Nevada. A promising site near Tonopah may be stopped by an undistinguished endangered wildflower, Tiehm’s buckwheat, endemic to that area. Another major site, Thacker Pass, north of Winnemucca, is actively opposed by indigenous people, local citizens and conservationists for possible social, cultural and environmental impacts. Near Fallon, the Dixie Valley toad may also be listed as endangered and stop geothermal development.
Many huge blades from giant wind turbines are neither reusable, recyclable nor biodegradable. The only solution so far seems to be to cut them into small pieces and bury them. Nuclear plant decommissioning and fuel reprocessing may raise fewer problems. Further, panels required in solar fields in the desert are much less efficient than expected. Why? Because deserts are windy and wind deposits copious amounts of dust on the panels. That problem can, of course, be solved with water, but they’re in the desert. Utility solar also does a great job of frying birds, including endangered species, flying between the mirror panels and towers.
In sum, very large quantities of problematic chemicals, processes and environmental impacts attend renewables and EVs. And the costs are high. This listed issues only scratches the surface. It will take many years to address the problems and build the renewable electrical capacity. Even then, we’ll still need supplemental fossil- and nuclear-fueled power.